Tuesday, December 12, 2017

A Sighting At Dusk

One of the deer visiting on a Sunday in October

The doe moved, a dainty side-stepping, at the moment I lifted my eyes to the window.  My hands stilled, the slicing of tomatoes and a yellow pepper halted as I scanned the rapidly darkening woods beyond the stable, expecting to see several other deer move gracefully down the steep hill. 

The little band of deer, usually a group of four or five, are a familiar presence, often seen crossing through the scrubby saplings beyond the retaining wall or picking their way along the dry stream bed behind the workshop. 
The doe seemed to be on her own, an indistinct wraith of a creature, her grey-brown coat blending with the quiet hues of tree trunks, melting into a surround of fallen leaves the color of old pennies.

As I watched, with a sense that she was aware of my serveillance, she flagged her white tail, and with a glance over her shoulder strolled past the half-dead sycamore and disappeared behind a brush pile. 
I resumed preparation of the salad, fretting aloud to Jim that the doe was alone.  He suggested, reasonably enough, that others of the family group may have passed through ahead of the doe or might be making their way through the woods out of sight.

Our lane meanders past the lower farmhouse and barn, dividing where the ground rises to the house on one side, the workshop on the other.  The shallow valley narrows, wooded ridges rear steeply to east and west.  Trees and underbrush close in beyond the stable that once sheltered an Amish buggy and the stall for a horse.  In summer the ranks of trees create a green darkness; on a sunny day in mid-winter branches are etched in elegant tracery against a blue sky.  
For each time that we notice the deer making their light-footed way down the hillside, there are doubtless many more when their quiet visitation is unseen.

With the doe out of sight we got on with supper, switching on lights in the kitchen as the sun disappeared behind the western ridge.

I was not thinking of deer 40 minutes later when, hastily pulling on a jacket, I went out with the veg peelings to be tossed on the compost pile. The sky to the north was a deep inky blue; looking southward it was a swirl of grey, faintly lavender streaked, touching the darkness where Spruce Pine Creek flows beyond the meadow.
Above the bare treetops contrails had brushed a wide and fraying "X." A thinner line of fading white unraveled above the eastern ridge.  The colors of Jim's tractors, parked in the former stable, were barely discernible in the gloaming, red, green, blue.  Sally, the contrary barn cat, was a blurred shape crouched on the wall. 
I was startled when the doe bolted past me on the other side of the board fence, a faint warning snuffle, a rustling of small hooves in damp grass. 
I crunched across the dooryard gravel, shook the contents of the compost bucket in the general direction of the refuse heap where they would likely make an evening meal for one of the omnipresent possums that trundle about on the edge of darkness.

The wind was picking up, a soft but definite riffle through the long-dried stems of goldenrod and frost asters. The scent of wood smoke mingled with the smell of cold earth. From somewhere up the ridge an owl called, a response floated back in mournful cadence from deeper in the woods.

I shivered, hurried through the garage and opened the back door to the lingering essence of an afternoon's baking--the homey aroma of fresh bread, of coconut and maple, of vanilla and spice.
A glance out the window as I moved toward the warmth of the wood stove, confirmed that in the space of a few moments twilight had deepened, erasing colors, blotting out the lines of stable and workshop, enveloping deer, owls, possums and barn cats in the soft dark cloak of a winter night.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Projects Update/Aprons and Paint


The refinishing of the vintage blue cupboard has loomed over me as the last [?] of my large painting projects.  I bought it in the mid 1980's when we lived in Vermont.  A neighbor with New Jersey connections made frequent trips there to purchase antiques.  He offered me the cupboard with the option of choosing the paint color. I decided on 'Cupboard Blue' from the Old Village line of oil-based paints.  The cupboard fit well in our small log cabin home, where I used it for the storage of china and glassware.
During the Wyoming years the cupboard moved with us from house to house serving various functions.


Our first Kentucky house was small; when Jim renovated half of the basement as a sewing and craft area, the blue cupboard lived in that space, the shelves holding part of my fabric stash.
In an ill-considered moment I decided to paint the cupboard green.  It wasn't a wise move.
A local shop carried the paints in 'historic' colors, but oil-based was no longer available. 
To shorten the tale of woe, I can testify that 'milk paint' over oil-based isn't a reliable bond.


The cupboard doors were made of tongue and groove, the fit not precise.
I've wondered if the doors were a later addition to this rather primitive piece.  Removing the hardware to lift off the doors proved a daunting task which required Jim to use a chisel and hammer to loosen the elderly hinges. 
I've set the doors aside for later consideration--I may not reinstall them.



I began work on the cupboard where it has been sitting since our move here nearly three years ago--in the basement room which leads out to the back porch.
I went at the thing rather grimly with the power sander, sought advice regarding primer, applied a coat of Zinsser oil-based which son Howard assured me would prevent any possibility of 'issues' from the residue of the old paint.
The change in weather made the basement too chilly for happy painting, so this afternoon Jim trundled the cupboard across the graveled space and into his shop where the wood stove made for a friendlier work space.
The cupboard is now wearing a base coat of Valspar Cannonball Black in  satin finish.
The shelves don't need repainting.
The final coats of paint shouldn't present much challenge.





I took advantage of the warm shop to paint the frame of a small bench, as well as some other small pieces.
Painting 'rungs' and avoiding drips or runs is challenging.


When not painting I've been sewing--yet more aprons!
I've wished I could sell a few of these--they go for fancy prices in online shops, but I lack a proper venue locally, although the little store and cafe on the corner is happy to display them along with the work of other area artists and crafters.
I sent a few away on consignment months ago, but that venture seems to have faded out.


The aprons have been appreciated as gifts and I enjoy sourcing the materials through ebay or etsy, but it may be time to quit making them.



While rummaging through bins of fabric I located the remnants of a favorite bed sheet-- strips salvaged when the center of the sheet became worn.
The cotton is silky, washed to a pleasant softness.
I use a king size pillow--Jim has a smaller one, so a regular set of pillowcases doesn't suit.
An hour's work and we have matching pillowslips in the designated sizes--and I can give a nod to my heritage of 'Yankee' thrift. 
I finished up that rainy afternoon by patching the elbows of several work shirts which Jim refuses to consign to the ragbag. 
If you've patched shirt elbows lately you know its a job destined to leave one feeling cantankerous!

At least my sewing table is cleared and I can see the end of the big cupboard renovation.
Tomorrow should bring a day of reckoning with the dust kittens that have accumulated in corners;  Jim ate the last slices of homemade bread with warmed over spaghetti for supper, so baking heads the list of 'things to do!'

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Turning The Page On November


I awoke before 5 this morning when the bedroom was still swathed in darkness relieved only by the glow of the night light in the hallway. It was too early to go downstairs, too early to create the clatter that accompanies refilling the wood stove.  I stirred cautiously, feeling the heavy warmth of Chester-cat who sleeps on my feet.  The cats know when I am awake, no matter that I am quiet. They plod in from the guest bedroom across the hall, bounce onto the bed, bounce down again.  I hear them milling about in the gloom beyond the bed--they would like me to get up, trudge downstairs, turn on lights, open the porch door onto the morning.



There was no frost last night, the morning dawned with only a faint wash of pink staining pearl grey clouds.


For more than a week we have enjoyed sunny, nearly windless days following on frosty nights. 
The afternoon landscape has been gold-washed, mellow.  Trees, fence posts, buildings, cast long shadows.  Days are short with the sun sliding behind the western ridge around 4 o'clock. 
We live only a mile from the invisible line dividing eastern and central time zones. Although our home is on the central side of the line, at this time of year we are very aware of the early darkness, regardless of the clocks.


On Saturday after  a lunch assembled from holiday left-overs, I announced my intention to climb the steep trail that follows the spine of the western ridge. 


The rough trail lies beyond the leaning gate. Climbing, one can turn and view the lower house, the barn and the goat pastures.


The trail viewed in a zoom shot from the back door of the barn.


I was surprised that Jim was willing to walk with me.
The ground flattens out at the top of the ridge after a steep climb. 
I didn't 'puff' as much as I expected.  Jim brought along his very sharp garden pruners to snip off brambles that had trailed into the path. While he attacked stray runners of wild rose and honeysuckle I had a chance to lean momentarily on my walking stick and catch my breath.


I am intrigued by the persimmon trees which grow on top of the ridge.


With most of the leaves gone treetops become sculpture against a blue sky.
I look up with my camera until I become slightly dizzy!




By the time we plunged back down the ridge trail the last slanting rays of sun washed the trees along the creek in a splash of red-gold, in brilliant contrast to the shadowed slopes beyond and the shorn and stubbled field along the road.


Renny--who knows he is handsome.

I have made every excuse to be outside during the warmer noontime hours.
The barn cats find sunny places to lounge once the frost and dew have 'burned off.'

Nosy teeters on the edge of the goats' water tub.


The yearling does gaze up the length of their pasture. 
The bottom of the ridge trail is visible, cutting its winding way through leafless trees.



Jim and our neighbor/renter F. made good use of the sunny days to continue stocking our respective wood sheds.
Last spring Jim moved the small shed which once served the leather shop near the lower house, hauling it up the lane and settling it outside the overhead doors which he installed in the former back entry/washroom.  The shed is stuffed full of seasoned firewood within easy reach.

Still more wood stacked against the wall of the stable.
Rather than housing an Amish horse and buggy the stable now provides parking spaces for Jim's ever changing collection of farm tractors.


Shadow-cat, who visits from next door, is familiarizing himself with the scent of creatures who might once have been at home in this wood while it was still standing.


Charlie has decided that Shadow is an intruder, so he crouches menacingly at the base of the wood stack.



The wood pile in black and white.


Several times today the sun scrambled from under shifting layers of clouds, only to be quickly  blanketed again by lowering billows of grey. Rain has mizzled down in a fine mist. The boy cats have dashed outside and returned disgruntled with damp fur.  I walked up the lane at dusk after a visit to the barn cats;  the air clung softly, the smell of wet leaves, dying gardens, wood smoke , all harbingers of  the countryside shifting into the somnolence of approaching winter.
For me winter arrives, not with the solstice, but with the turning of the calendar page to December.




Thursday, November 23, 2017

Thanksgiving Week



There has been a pleasant sameness in the weather this week, after the previous onslaughts of rain and wind.
Mornings have been silver-frosted-- grass, fence posts, roofs glittering as the sun rises slowly over the eastern ridge. 
Walking down the lane in mid-morning I note that the sheen of wet grass is over-laid with stripes of white where the shadow of a tree or power pole slows the strengthening warmth of the sun.


The boy cats clamor to go outside when I come downstairs a bit after 6 a.m.
The edge of the retaining wall offers a spot to warm and dry off furry paws that have gotten chilled in the first explorations of the day.
It was 22 F at 6:15 on this Thanksgiving morn. The 'boys' seemed disgruntled, surprised by the cold, almost expecting me to instantly fix temperatures more to their liking. 


With nearly all the leaves blown to the ground, morning light has a different quality, flowing over objects that have been previously lurking in shade.  Branches are sharply etched against  clear skies. Plumes of wood smoke announce that someone is stirring, greeting the day.


Jim has firewood harvest privileges at the Amish farm up the road. He and our neighbor/renter have spent several mornings this week pulling out 'tops' left from a logging operation, cutting them into stove lengths and then using the wood splitter to make more manageable chunks.
Both men enjoy the work, carried on in the crisp sunny weather.  They roar in with old Snort'n Nort'n loaded to capacity and stash the wood, turn about, at our place or the lower one.


On Monday, I kept Dazee Belle while our friends made a routine trip to Nashville.  Dazee has outgrown some of her puppy ways and is a more docile visitor than she was a year ago.  I take her out on her lead, let her rootle about in the fallen leaves, sniff along the fence.
She hears her owners' car chugging up the lane early in the evening and welcomes their return, wriggling with delight, bouncing about the front door as they pull to a stop.


Tuesday I drove to the South Fork community, wanting salad makings for Thanksgiving dinner. 
Bins and baskets of apples line the outer entry; the scent of apples is heady-sweet on the cool air.


A grocery cart has been heaped a variety of pumpkins.  A hand-lettered sign announces that they are 'pie pumpkins' for those purists who don't buy pumpkin tidily processed and packed. 

[Making pumpkin puree is a fairly lengthy task--cutting up the pumpkin, scraping out seeds and their stringy surrounding pulp, roasting the chunks of pumpkin, then finally scooping the cooked flesh from the rind and putting it through a food mill.  I buy mine in cans.]

This was our first Thanksgiving at home in several years. Daughter and her husband are in Vermont for the week, so grandson joined us for dinner.
I felt I was being quite organized. I didn't want to fuss with a whole turkey, so bought a hickory smoked turkey breast which was gently thawing after a week's incarceration in the freezer.  By Wednesday evening the kitchen was fragrant with pumpkin pudding just out of the oven, a pastry shell was ready to pop in, fruited jello settled in a glass bowl in the fridge, two extra pies tucked in the freezer for future reference. 


I nipped out early to record our  holiday morning weather, fed the outdoor cats, prodded the fire into renewed life.


 I squeezed fresh lemons for pie filling, whipped egg whites to glossy peaks. 


It was a temptation to be outside in the sun as the temperature climbed.
Instead I peeled potatoes and butternut squash, decided to cook them on the wood stove. 



Glancing out the window I noticed that Willis, his morning rounds completed, had settled for a nap in the buggy.


Jim acquired the Amish buggy along with the farm swap.  It has been stored at various places, and has now been lodged for the winter on a corner of the long front porch.
The cats were immediately interested, so Jim provided a thick old quilt for their comfort.



Our porch chairs and settee remain on the south facing side of the wrap-around porch and are layered with old rugs and throws for the cats. Two blanket-lined baskets on the  lower back porch offer another choice of snug cat beds.
If Willis has chosen the buggy as his preferred shelter I expect the other cats will need his approval to share the space.


To borrow a phrase from  Garrison Keillor, "It has been a quiet week"--one of beneficent weather, of unhurried accomplishments. 
I won't need to cook tomorrow--the fridge is stocked with appealing left-overs.
I can think of no urgent tasks to demand my attention.
A sunny day--and warmer--is forecast.
There should be time to meander outdoors with my camera, to visit the goats and the barn cats next door, time perhaps in the afternoon for a book and a mug of tea.


Thursday, November 16, 2017

Moody Weather


Second week of the reversion to 'standard time' and I've not accomplished the reset of my internal clock. Evenings seem to begin shortly after noon and drag on for hours, while I tell myself that I am not sleepy.  I'm doing better with mornings--downstairs not long after six the past two mornings.
Jim has battled a cold/cough and is content to sleep in.
The cats have likewise not adjusted and begin begging for their 'tea' at the usual time. I could humor them, but I tell them 'soon' knowing they will accept the winter hours after a few more days have passed.
Morning temperatures have hovered around the freezing mark; most days have had a sunless start.
A hint of blue sky is worth recording.



Jim, bundled up against drizzling rain, tackled a dead tree at the edge of the woods. 



He brought it round to the wood shed and ran the chunks through the wood splitter.


Rain and wind have swept down the russet leaves of oak and hickory leaving the lane a bleak prospect on a gloomy day.


The view beyond the stable into the woods is now one of nearly bare branches rearing tipsily against the sky.


There was sunshine much of today.  The cats popped in and out whenever a door was opened.
The concrete retaining wall which faces the front of the house becomes a favorite vantage point for them--dry and sun-warmed when the long grass and weeds are damp and chilly.


Willis, mindful of his responsibilities, waits at the bend of the lane to escort me when I return from  walking to the mailbox.


When rain threatens or the wind blows cold, Willis appreciates his blanket lined basket on the sheltered back porch.


Bonny has been sorting the goats into winter pastures. 
These three girls are keeping company with Dandelion the senior buck.
When I walked past this afternoon he hooted loudly, asserting lordly dominance over the little group. 
The young does [born in the spring of 2016] are enjoying the companionship of a younger buck in a pasture behind the barn.


Seed heads still cling to the clematis vine, a collage of muted color.


In the sheltered corner near the side porch self-sown petunias straggle over the wall. 


One brave nasturtium, a remnant of summer, has thus far survived the frosty nights.

Being much indoors during the moody weather I've been sewing, reading.  The piano tuner  was here last week prompting me to spend a bit more time going over music--nothing very challenging.

Dashing outside on some errand means finding a jacket--soon I will want a scarf, gloves.

I am somewhat astonished to realize that this will be our 4th winter in the farmhouse.